Tuesday, November 13, 2018
The news of murder of Laura Hunt, a famous advertising executive, at her apartment, sends shock waves through the city. Detective Mark is sent to question the possible suspects, and starts off with newspaper columnist Waldo, Laura's friend. Waldo helped Laura start off in business when he endorsed her pen. Waldo decides to accompany Mark on his way to interrogate other people, as well. Mark questions Laura's fiance, Shelby, and Laura's aunt, Ann. One evening, as Mark fell asleep, he is shocked to see Laura return to her apartment—she wasn't murdered because she was away in the forest, and thus the police find out that the killer confused Diane, a model, with Laura, and shot her, instead, since it was night in Laura's apartment. Mark finally figures that Waldo is the perpetrator due to his jealousy of Laura's men. As Waldo tries to kill Laura once again, Mark intervenes and saves her.
While it does kick off with a rather shaky start, especially due to some "smart alec" dialogues which seem somewhat artificial, "Laura" slowly builds its ground and advances into an excellent film noir of 'old school', securing itself a steady place as a classic among the opus of film director Otto Preminger. Dana Andrews is somewhat coiled as the detective Mark investigating Laura's murder, yet the storyline, mood, style and clever writing simply all nullify any complain and end on a high note where everything fits in the finale. The most was achieved out of the cynical newspaper columnist, Waldo (brilliant Clifton Webb), who gives the movie several fresh, quirky lines: already at the beginning of the film, when Mark enters his mansion, Waldo is untypically typing on his type machine while in a bathtub. Waldo also has this line when the cocky Mark enters the door without announcement: "Haven't you heard of science's newest triumph, the doorbell?" In a flashback, there is a delicious sequence that reveals how Laura first met Waldo, bothering him to endorse a product of hers while he was dinning, but he refused, which leads to another great exchange ("But you write about people with such real understanding and sentiment." - "Sentiment comes easily at 50 cents a word"). There is a great plot twist some half way into the film, after which the movie engages even more, while it also offers several interesting character traits (after the twist, Mark calls guests to see their reaction at the new set of facts), as well as wider themes of possessiveness and extreme jealousy, making some film critics wonder about Waldo's motivations: was he in love with Laura or did he just want to be like her?
Sunday, November 11, 2018
A village. Hera (12) witnesses how her brother falls while driving a tractor and dies from its blades that plow the land. The parents, Droplaug and Karl, attend his funeral, but Hera is disgusted by the picture of Jesus and the injustice of her brother's early death, and adopts a rebellious attitude towards society. A decade later, Hera is into Heavy metal music, a goth girl who constantly searches for trouble: she finds a job in a slaughterhouse, but gets fired for playing music over loudspeakers; she steals a tractor; she smokes in church... She is at first hostile towards the new pastor, yet attempts to kiss him when he reveals an Iron Maiden tattoo. He rejects her, and Hera burns down the church. Ultimately, she finally grows up and takes responsibility: she begins a relationship with neighbor Knutur, plays a concert with a Norwegian band while her parents accept her music.
"Metalhead" is a case study on how a negative, pivotal event in life can trigger anti-social behavior and misplaced anger against the entire world by a teenager, in this edition Hera, a girl who decides to adopt a "counter-culture" persona of a Heavy metal fan in order to show her revolt against the society, yet she finally in the end realizes that there is no enemy she can take revenge on (bad events are, after all, mostly just random chances, anyway), just innocent people around her, and thus ultimately matures and grows up. Director Ragnar Bregason crafts a good film that contemplates how different people cope differently with problems, yet he lacks true highlights and inspiration to truly catapult it into more than many other such similar stories, which are a dime a dozen. Moreover, one interesting subplot involving a young local pastor and his interaction with Hera (in a neat little scene where she is startled in her room when he starts unzipping his shirt, only to reveal he has an Iron Maiden tattoo on his arm) could have practically been the main plot of the storyline, since the main story is too episodic and aimless at times. Another subplot, where three Norwegian Heavy metal players visit her home because they heard her music, could have been the real plot as well, yet it is also dropped since it appears only in the last 20 minutes of the film. The most was achieved out of the leading actress, excellent Thora Bjorg Helga, who convincingly transverses from one state of mind to another.
Sunday, November 4, 2018
In medieval Japan, Kagome, Inuyasha, Miroku and Sango finally seemingly manage to defeat demon Naraku. Kagome therefore returns back to modern Tokyo to attend high school, where she listens to a lecture about the Kaguya legend, but is quickly deplored by Inuyasha to come back to the medieval Japan. Once back, Kagome meets Akitoki Hojo, a great ancestor to one of her classmates. A new threat emerges: spirit woman Kaguya, who kidnaps Kagome and locks her up in her castle. Kaguya uses a spell to encompass the entire forest with dark energy, causing the time to freeze, but Inuyasha and the others are exempt, since they touched Kagome's band-aid from the future. Inuyasha storms the castle and is almost transformed into a full demon by Kaguya, but Kagome's kiss saves him. Naraku shows up, since he only feigned his death in order to merge with Kaguya and become stronger. Inuyasha and company manage to stop Kaguya's plan and everything returns back to normal.
"Inuyasha" seems as if it was made by a Schizophrenic person: in the anime series, the first 80 episodes were great, only for the next 80 episodes to be terribly repetitive and action based, as if they were made by a completely different author. Then the 1st movie was great again. The 2nd movie, "The Castle Beyond the Looking Glass", is somewhere in between: its storyline was rejuvenated thanks to a few refreshing, comical and romantic moments, characteristic for its author, Rumiko Takahashi, yet it still drags in the 2nd half, and leans again more towards generic, empty action and battle sequences, which is why some viewers will find them boring to sit through. The convoluted story meanders too much, and it isn't all until the last 30 minutes until it finally leads to a plot tangle, whereas the finale is somewhat rushed and not quite satisfying. Kagome is again a very sweet character, and her quandary as to leave her modern teenage life to fight some medieval demons is something people can (allegorically) identify with: it is based on the old notion that tasks and obligations don't ask for a convenient time. One of the best moments is a comical one: six samurais encircle a young lad, Hojo, on a bridge, assaulting him, but are deliciously "interrupted" when Inuyasha nonchalantly just wants to pass between them to cross the bridge. The samurais are insulted that someone just ignores their "fuss", even a complete stranger, and thus now aim their anger against Inuyasha—only to be thrown into the river, since, unbeknownst to them, Inuyasha is a half-demon. Another great little moment has Kagome arguing with her little brother, yet some dogs are barking at them from a pet store. Kagome thus turns around and orders them: "Sit!" Only for the sound of a falling Inuyasha to be heard behind her, who was there all the time. More of these moments would have been welcomed, since they reach the viewers better than the routine battle sequences, yet this is still a good little edition of the long franchise.
Thursday, November 1, 2018
Cairo. Qinawi is a newspaper-seller who cannot find a woman because of his low salary and one limp foot, and thus lives alone in a shed. He is secretly in love with Hanuma, a woman who illegally sells cold drinks by climbing into trains and offering drinks to the passangers arriving at the station, though she and her friends have to be quick to escape as to not get caught by the police. She is suppose to get married to Abu Siri, an employee at the station who is protesting against the harsh working conditions of his boss and thus tries to form a union. When she rejects him once again, Qinawi decides to stab Hanuma. However, because it was night, he accidentally stabbed another woman and placed her in a trunk. The woman survives and informs the police who arrest Qinawi before he can stab Hanumi at the railroad. He is sent to a mental asylum.
Widely considered one of the greatest movies of Egyptian cinema, "Cairo Station" by its director (and main actor) Youssef Chahine is a dark, disenchanting and bitter tale on the old archetype of all drama: the everlasting tragedy/suffering caused by the rift between what people want from life and what life actually gives them. This variation has the main protagonist suffer from loneliness because he is a cripple, and the lack of any sympathy or understanding from women around him lead to inevitable tragic consequences. Chahine is surprisingly daring in some scenes: the opening has Madbouli enter Qinawi's shed, and spots that it is plastered with newspaper clips of scantly dressed women, a situation neatly summed up by Madbouli's narration: "That's when I realized how frustrated he was, so frustrated that he became more and more obsessed". Inspired somewhat by Italian neoralism, "Cairo Station" strives towards naturalism without any idealism, showing the sorry state of human existence—true to the ulterior theme of desire as a trap for people—yet despite its simple approach, it has a strong style: close-up shots are used effectively (one expressionistic sequence zooms in on Qinawi's eyes as he observes, it is implied, sex between the "object of his affection", Hanuma and Abu Siri, in a warehouse, while his look is intercut with frames of a train slowly passing over the railroad tracks, pressing it up and down) whereas a couple of "cinematic codifications" are surprisingly well done (in one sequence, Madbouli reads a newspaper article about a woman who was killed, her head cut off, while Qinawi suddenly leaves the room, leaving behind a small paper photo of a woman whose head he "cut off" with scissors). Chahine has a sense for a simple movie language in the storyline, delivering a film that does not accuse anyone yet causes everyone to think, whereas his actors are wonderful, from Hind Rostom as Hanuma up to the excellent Farid Shawqi, one of the most underrated Egyptian actors.
Tuesday, October 30, 2018
A small town in Kentucky, 1890. William Priest is a kind, amicable man who works as the only judge in the small town. When an African-American, Pointdexter, is charged before the court for stealing a chicken, Priest acquits him and even becomes his friend. Priest's nephew, Jerome, is in love with Ellie, but Jerome's mother objects to their relationship since Ellie's father is unknown. When some men make rude comments about Ellie's heritage, a certain Gillis attacks them to protect Ellie's reputation, but is charged with assault in front of the court. The Prosecutor, Maydew, makes sure that Priest is removed from the position of the judge for this case, citing conflict of interest, while Gillis is defended by Jerome. In order to help them all, Priest brings a Reverend to testify, who confirms that Gillis was a brave, noble man fighting in the Civil War, and that he is Ellie's father. Upon that, a patriotic feel breaks out and Gillis is acquitted of all charges.
One of John Ford's forgotten films, "Judge Priest" is indeed one of his 'lighter' achievements that isn't a classic, yet even in his weaker edition, the master director still has enough charm and spark to deliver a good film. A gentle, nostalgic 'slice-of-life' comedy, a one that tries to illustrate the life and mentality of small, but lovable people of the South at the turn of the 20th century, "Judge Priest" owes 90 % of its charm to its main actor, excellent comedian Will Rogers, who unfortunately died a year later, and thus some view this as one of his finest performances by pure default. In one the best moments, Priest wants to help Ellie get rid of a primitive suitor, Flem, in order to be with her beloved Jerome: the Priest thus hides behind the bushes and changes his voice to imitate, ostensibly, a conversation between two men talking about Ellie's jealous lover who is coming to shoot Flem ("There ain't a thing that I can do about it, my job don't start until they get him all laid out in the morgue..."), while Flem "accidentally" overhears everything while sitting at the porch, and congruently flees as fast as he can. While the episodic storyline is a tad overstretched, uneventful and without a clear purpose, all until the intriguing 20-minute finale in the courtroom, some dialogues still reveal that typical Ford-ian excellence (when accosted at trial by the Prosecutor, Gillis replies:"I ain't the one looking for trouble. But I ain't the one to run away from it, either!"), thus helping alleviate some less inspired periods of the narrative, while the actors are great.
Thursday, October 25, 2018
Mr. Raab is an ordinary drafting technician living a boring, routine life. He is married, has a kid, lives in an apartment and often endures long, accosted conversations with his mother-in-law when she drops by for visit. His life is uneventful: he goes to a store to ask for help in identifying a song he heard on the radio; his boss nags him; he and his wife are summoned in school because a teacher found their son lacking in concentration and comprehension skills; their neighbors drop by to chat. One evening, a woman drops by and talks loudly with Raab's wife. Raab cannot hear the TV from her and has to adjust the volume. Finally, Raab suddenly snaps, takes a candle holder and uses it to hit and kill the woman, his wife and their son. At work, the police discover Raab hanged himself in the toilet.
"Why does Mr. R. Run Amok?" stirred up quite a hype during its premiere by covering a dark topic of an ordinary everyman who seemingly leads a routine, average life until he suddenly snaps and goes on a killing spree, thereby contemplating about the ever unpredictable impulses of violence hiding in human subconsciousness, since they can resurface anywhere without warning. The movie was credited as being directed by both Michael Fengler and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, even though by some accounts Fassbinder spent only two days on the set, while an alternative source even claims that he didn't contribute to the film at all. Either way, it is a movie that is deceivingly static and quiet for 90 % of its time—except for the last 10 minutes in which the murders happen in the apartment, and thus this contrast between the peaceful and the violent creates a certain dose of anticipation, since the viewers know something bad is going to happen near the end.
The movie is filmed in long takes, with the camera "circling" to encompass a room, and there are only some 30 cuts in the entire film, thereby giving a sense of naturalism and an unbearably grey, uneventful routine. However, there are two problems with this concept. Firstly, these ordinary and boring dialogues are themselves ordinary and boring, and thus the viewers start losing interest after a while, since some richer director's intervention would have been welcomed. Secondly, the authors failed to give a sufficient motivation for Raab's action in the finale. While his life is indeed boring and lifeless, it is not enough to make his actions in the finale seem like a natural conclusion, and thus his "outburst" seems as if it came from a completely different movie. The only scene where his interior is explored is the one where his son reads a homework in which he observed a hawk in a Zoo, claiming the bird seemed "sad a trapped", while the camera lingers on Raab's face, indicating he identifies with his own "cage". Unfortunately, the story was not convincing in exploring the modern dysfunctional, destructive society since it failed to show a clear oppression, pressure or Raab's dream life that he would rather be in compared to the life he actually has. For example, in "Dead Poets Society", Neil studies to be a doctor, but his dream is to be an actor, and thus when his father forbids his dream, Neil commits suicide. Raab is nowhere as clear as Neil, and thus remains a rather vague character.
Tuesday, October 23, 2018
Radha gets married to farmer Shamu. With time, they get four kids, but Shamu's loan from Sukhilala, a money shark, leaves them with a permanently bad contract that demands that Sukhilala takes 3/4 of their harvest each year. In order to survive, the couple decides to expand their farm, yet while trying to remove a giant rock from the land, it falls on Shamu's arms, which thus have to be amputated. As a disabled man, Shamu one night leaves the farm from shame and disappears. A flood destroys the village, causing a famine, two of Radha's kids die, but she decides to stay and rebuild the farm. As grown ups, their two sons, Birju and Ramu, are very different. When after numerous teasing of the girls one of them provokes Birju, he goes mad and attacks Sukhilala for his exploitation of their farm. Birju flees and returns with a gang of bandits to kill Sukhilala and kidnap his daughter Rupa during her wedding. Radha shoots Birju because she wanted to save Rupa.
Even though it is considered one of the most recognizable and famous Hindi films of the century, "Mother India" is an overrated soap opera whose three hours of running time brought it closer to boredom than to an epic. Just like the family's farm is exploited by a loan shark, the whole movie uses their suffering to exploit it to almost intolerable, exaggerated proportions, without almost any sense for subtlety, ingenuity or creativity in cinematic language. Its more complex themes cover abuses in lending and usury, delivering at least some thought-provoking ideas, such as when it is implied that Birju became grumpy and aggressive as a kid due to this poverty, and that this translated into his violent nature as a grown up, which ultimately made full circle when he takes revenge against the loan shark of the village. However, this can only go so far as an excuse, since Birju is a very unsympathetic, irritating character, and thus the audience in the end cheers more that he should get killed than the loan shark.
Actress Nargis is another virtue, giving a strong, dedicated performance as the allegorical mother who sacrifices herself completely for her children: the iconic sequence of her holding a plow and dragging it across the field is almost reminiscent of Jesus holding a cross, indicating at the symbolic burden that every person has to endure in his or her life. She even says: "It is easy to contemplate suffering when you are sitting at the throne". Moments illustrating her rural life include Radha sneezing while trying to pick up the spilled chili powder or holding her kids and possessions in the house on a wooden suspension, even though the water is up to her neck due to a flood, while a snake swims towards them, searching for a dry place from the water. Unfortunately, the majority of the story is banal, grey and one-dimensional, especially during the heavily syrupy moments in which the brute Birju just gets worse and worse, while his mother just loves him more and more: this 'undue love' causes dramatic boredom. The musical sequences are unnecessary, most notably during the unintentionally comical moments of the mother singing when she and Birju are walking in the forest, after having fled from a mob in the forest. The only interesting moment is the surprising ending, i.e. Radha's determined action, yet the viewers first have to plow their way through a melodramatic story to get to that good part at last.
Friday, October 19, 2018
Rome. Director Salvatore is surprised when he gets the news from his mother in Giancaldo, Sicily, that his old friend Alfredo has died. Salvatore has not been to his hometown for over 30 years, but still clearly remembers his childhood: as an 8-year old, Salvatore was fascinated by movies and often attended the only cinema in town, Paradiso, and became friends with its operator, Alfredo. Salvatore's father died in World War II, leaving his mother a widow. A fire burned the cinema, leaving Alfredo blind, but was rebuilt by a rich local. As a teenager, Salvatore became the new cinema operator and fell in love with Elena, but her father wanted her to marry a rich businessman's son. Alfredo advised Salvatore to leave the province and live in Rome, which he did. Back in Giancaldo, the now middle-aged Salvatore attends the funeral and discovers Alfredo's reel with all the cut movie kisses through the decade.
One of the most famous European films of the 80s, equally recognized both by the critics and the audiences alike, "Cinema Paradiso" is both a nostalgic semi-autobiography and an ode to cinema, a one that managed to rejuvenate the Italian film after a slump in the said decade. In a time when Fellini lost his touch, Tornatore stepped in and offered an "Amarcord"-like comic recollection of the past, just without the grotesque, and with a lot more innocence and emotions. Unlike other directors who tend to make movies as complicated and demanding as possible, Tornatore crafts "Cinema" as a simple, accessible story about growing up, yet his light touch also managed to subtly instill several genuine themes and messages about life, most notably about transience. Several humorous moments stand out the most: from the ultra-conservative priest who stages an early screening of each film at the cinema and rings a bell whenever he wants to censor a kiss, whereas Alfredo puts a sheet of paper on the reel which he will cut later, so the people in the audience later lament at the obvious lack of a scene ("I haven't seen a kiss on screen in 20 years!"), up to a moment of magical realism in which Alfredo turns the projector through the window to screen a movie on a wall of a house (when the house owner exits on the balcony, he is in the middle of the huge picture, causing the audience outside to shout that he should go back inside).
There are even a couple of metafilm touches in the story: a fire erupts at cinema Paradiso during the screening of the movie "The Fireman of Viggiu", while Salvatore's maturing emotions and love affections seems to parallel those of the maturing of the cinema that started to incorporate a few more adult, raunchy elements in the 50s. The elegant mood is completed by the enchanting, melancholic music by Ennio Morricone which is simply fabulous. The two hour version is better, since the director's cut is weaker, which is surprising: with a running time of three hours, the director's cut is definitely too long, lingering on some details until they become repetitive, whereas it also offers a twist ending that heavily pollutes the sympathy for the character of Alfredo, since it is revealed he demolished Salvatore's crucial relationship, which is an undue interference into someone's private life. As the famous scene of Salvatore watching all the cut movie clips of kisses that Alfredo assembled into a reel 'montage' illustrates, all the events, whether good or bad, will ultimately one day become just a collection of memories. The 'kiss montage' reel thus serves as one giant kiss to cinema, complimenting it as the ultimate storage device for these memories, framed in a movie, thus keeping it as a treasure for generations to come.
Tuesday, October 16, 2018
As a baby, Navin Johnson was left in front of the hut of an African-American family and raised by them. As a grown up, Navin is naive and stupid, and decides to head off to St. Louis after hearing great music broadcast on the radio. He finds his first job at a gas station, but after an assassin persecutes him, Navin finds another job at a circus, where he loses his virginity with Patty, a daredevil who drives her motorcycle through a ring on fire. He then meets blond Marie and runs away with her, but she runs away from him later on. He accidentally invents an Opti-Grab for glasses, and an entrepreneur shares 50 % of his profits of the invention with him, making Navin a millionaire. However, after Carl Reiner sues him because Opti-Grab causes crossed-eyes, Navin goes broke and lands on the street. He is found by his family and Marie and brought back home.
Steve Martin's debut as a leading actor in a feature length movie, "The Jerk" is one of those cheap populist comedies that think that the masses only laugh at the "Look at how dumb he can be!"-situations, and rarely does something clever come out of this concept of a stupid protagonist. Unlike many other of those "idiot comedies", which are vulgar and dumb, this one is at least only dumb, yet its 'hillbilly jokes' are a hit-or-miss affair: some work, some don't. The story is highly episodic and thus it seems as if there were four films glued into one: characters and events come and disappear as random as they appeared. One example: at the circus, Navin had sex with Patty, a daredevil woman who dominates him and forbids him to see any other women. However, he goes out on a date with the blond Marie. Patty shows up with her motorcycle, claims she is together with Navin, and then Marie punches her. Cut to a scene of Navin and Marie singing on the beach at night (?), without ever mentioning Patty again. Did Marie complain to Navin for seeing another woman? The strangeness of this sudden shift seems to suggest that there was another sequence that was cut from the finished film.
Later on, Marie leaves Navin, and again the motivations of her actions (and that of other characters) are never quite explained. However, it at least leads to one of the best jokes in the film, the one where a naked Navin takes two small dogs to cover his intimate parts, and exit the house to walk on the garden, looking for Marie. The best gag involves director Carl Reiner appearing as himself on TV, suing Navin because his glasses caused him to become cross-eyed, which caused Reiner to yell "Cut!" too late, with a clip showing an actor thus driving a car down a hill. Other jokes, while dumb, at least have a good punchline here and there. One such cartoonish example has Navin attaching a car with three robbers to a nearby church with a rope, but the robbers just drive away with a demolished portion of a church attached to them, anyway, albeit in a slow pace. Navin then describes the criminals to the police on the phone: "No, I didn't get their license number, but you cannot miss them: they are driving a blue Chevy pulling a part of a church". M. Emmet Walsh is sadly wasted in his random, thin role of a sniper assassin. While a solid film, "The Jerk" is still a rather lame comedy that builds its story on humiliating its lead comedian, by showing him in an edition beneath his dignity, instead of the opposite, in an edition with class.
Friday, October 12, 2018
Martina works as a pizza delivery girl in a joint run by her autocratic father, who became too protective of her after Martina's mother died when she was a kid. Martina often delivers pizza to Filip, a blond guy who often plays first-person shooter video games in an empty apartment. The two start a relationship. Her friend goes to the island of Pag for the Zrće party, but Martina's father forbids her to go there, as well. Martina thus decides to take her father's money and run away with Filip to Zrće during the night. However, unbeknownst to her, Filip suffers from paranoid schizophrenia: when Martina's ex-boyfriend attacks him in a night club, Filip shoots him with his gun. Filip then takes Martina hostage and forces a taxi driver to drive them to a cottage in the countryside. It turns out Filip killed his parents there. Upon chasing Martina in the woods, the police arrive and shoot Filip.
Considering that any genre outside the social drama immediately sparked interest in Croatian cinema for trying out something different, psychological thriller "F20" by Arsen Ostojic caught a lot of attention for being fresh and unusual. A lot of praise should be given to the two excellent actors in the leading roles; Romina Tonkovic as Martina, and especially the maestro Filip Mayer, the new hope of Croatian actors, who balanced a fine line between a psychopath and a normal, gentle person, refusing to succumb to typical cliches about people with schizophrenia on film. It should also be noted that "F20" signaled a point where the Croatian film lost its virginity: even though they are very brief, the two sex scenes are very modern and effective (one is when Martina is filming her sex with Filip in bed; the other is when Filip "takes" her from behind in his apartment). A few moments of black humor are also a plus point; in one scene, a police detective licks his finger and then touches his own nipple to "arouse" himself while watching a porn. In another, Martina is running and fighting for her life in the woods, while her oblivious friend is sending her selfies from the Zrće party beach. However, the movie works far better in the first half, as a love story, than in the second half, as a thriller, since some of its sudden outbursts of violence are not that inspired nor unique, settling for a rather predictable, standard finale with a "sudden", somewhat incomplete ending.